All departments should take responsibility for rough sleeping, report argues

Kerslake Commission says departments should collaborate and have collective accountability for rough sleeping
Rough sleeper in Whitehall. Photo: Guy Corbishley/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

26 Sep 2023

Homelessness and rough sleeping should be treated as a priority within all government departments, rather than being seen as solely the responsibility of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, a report has said.

The latest report from the Kerslake Commission says the government will not meet its target to end rough sleeping by 2024.

It sets out a series of recommendations needed for the government to make progress on rough sleeping, including: more supply of social-rented housing and supported housing; homelessness and rough sleeping being prioritised across government; recognition of the diverse needs and experiences of people who are homeless and rough sleeping; and more long-term funding.

The commission was set up to 2021 to examine the lessons from the emergency response which supported people sleeping rough during the Covid-19 pandemic and was led by former head of the civil service Bob Kerslake until his death in July.

It works with the government, and other partners and agencies, to achieve the recommendations set out in its reports, monitor rough sleeping, and drive changes that will help to end rough sleeping.

In a foreword to the report, new St Mungo’s chief Emma Haddad – a former director general at the Home Office – says the commission has “lost a staunch ally of the homelessness sector” and calls the report “a tribute to [Kerslake] and his life’s work”.

The report calls on government departments to work together more effectively and take more responsibility for tackling homelessness, agreeing shared outcomes and understanding how they benefit each department.

All departments “should endorse a principle of collective accountability with funding programmes, whereby departments do not launch new funding programmes without discussing them with other departments to see where they may duplicate, conflict with each other, or could be better aligned to facilitate pooled budgets and joint commissioning”, the report says.

Collaborative working would be supported through a cabinet sub-committee on homelessness and rough sleeping, under the commission’s recommendations.

The commission’s previous progress report in 2022 recommended that for public funding to have the greatest impact on rough sleeping, it should be “coordinated, flexible, long term and sufficient”.

The latest report says there have been improvements in how these principles have been adopted by the government, “most notably through the allocation of a three-year funding settlement for homelessness and rough sleeping in the 2021 Spending Review”.

But it adds: “Despite these improvements, the commission has been advised by its members that there are still short-term ad hoc funding programmes, which can prove unpredictable, and different and conflicting funding streams which do not necessarily work together.”

Funding 'paradigm shift' needed

The report raises concerns about how government funds rough-sleeping programmes.

It warns that even “well-intentioned and joined-up initiatives” can fail to deliver because they do not have sufficient funding behind them, picking out the Ministry of Justice’s prison-leaver temporary accommodation service.

The scheme, the report says, has the potential to make a significant impact on reducing reoffending and cycles of homelessness. But its focus on high numbers of bed spaces, while providing only one hour of support a week, is inefficient for helping people with medium-high support needs, the commission says. Service design and delivery should be outcome led, with value placed on the quality, rather than quantity, of services, it argues.

The report also calls for the government to make providing local authorities with long-term funding a default preference, with minimum five-year funding cycles. This long-term funding should have flexibility to allow for adaptations as needs change and have built-in evaluation procedures, the commission argues.

Shorter-term funding should remain available, however, to pilot new initiatives or respond to short term issues, such as hotspots in rough sleeping.

The commission says the current short-term and unpredictable nature of funding creates a system where schemes are not sustainable beyond the time which they get funding.

There should be a “paradigm shift” in the approach to funding with the recognition that larger investment up front will make savings to public services in other areas in the long term, the report argues.

It points to research from Local Partnerships, an in-house consultancy jointly owned by the Treasury, the Local Government Association, and the Welsh Government, which looked at two local authority areas and found that every £1 invested in six different homelessness prevention services resulted in savings of £2-11.

A DLUHC spokesperson said: “We remain focused on ending rough sleeping for good and are spending £2bn to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping in the areas that need it most.

“We are making significant progress with over 640,000 households prevented from becoming homeless or supported into settled accommodation since 2018.

“We would like to pay tribute to Lord Bob Kerslake for his life’s work on this issue and we will continue to work with the commission to end rough sleeping for good.”


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